Thought for the Day - Professor Mona Siddiqui

It is said that faith is both a gift and a task. By Saturday this week most Muslim around the world will have begun observing the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar known as the month of fasting. Between sunrise and sunset, the adult and able Muslim, neither eats nor drinks and while many continue their day as normal, others take time out from their normal schedule for increased prayer and worship.

This year Ramadan will prove a particular challenge to the estimated 3000 Muslim athletes coming to the UK for the Olympics. This is probably the first time in recent history when the Olympic games and Ramadan coincide. Some will choose to defer their fasts till the games are over while other will probably train and compete around their 16-17 hours of fasting. While it’s true that some people find fasting easier than other, personally speaking I am amazed at any athlete who feels able to compete having gone without food or drink for so long. In London mosques are organising themselves to lay on evening meals or iftars to welcome all athletes of all backgrounds, Muslim and non-Muslim as a gesture of solidarity and hospitality. Sacred time will hopefully bring people together in new ways and create new friendships.

While Ramadan is understood as a fundamental pillar of Islam, it can often become one of the most debated issues of faith. There are exemptions from fasting for the elderly, the pregnant, the sick and infirm, those travelling, those on medication but these categories are traditional categories not always catering for the demands of modern times. Summer months here in the UK are the most challenging with long periods of daylight when life in theory should go on as normal but is simply not possible for so many. Every year there are debates and rulings about who can be exempt how to make up for missed fasts etc but in my view, peoples approach to Ramadan remains quite conservative and in fact its difficulty becomes its very appeal; it’s sacred time, a holy month and in the eyes of many fasting remains the ultimate act of endurance and patience in obedience to God.

The Qur’an itself refers to fasting in various verses but one reads, ` God intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you.’ This kind of verse can be open to a variety of interpretations about how one can live one’s faith more respectfully not just in this month but throughout life. Physical abstinence is undoubtedly difficult but like all rituals, the period of self reflection is essentially about transforming oneself both in body and soul.

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